[November Breaks] THEN | 10 | Noah

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Philip Drayne lives alone in the house he inherited from his parents when he was twenty-four. Mr and Mrs Drayne died together, an apparent simultaneous overdose, a double suicide, or at least officially accepted as one. A convenient excuse is as good as the truth when someone has boxes to tick.

Philip had come home from an evening out with friends and found them, or so the papers said. Except Philip had no friends, not really, not then. Later came the boys who smoked their first cigarettes and drank their first beers in the woods next to the park, payment from the lonely man who told them not to tell anyone. But they weren’t exactly his friends, either.

The families in neighbouring houses moved away, leaving bricks to crumble and gardens to give way to wildness while developers waited to pick clean the bones of dereliction. They’re still waiting, as landscapes keep changing and memories fade. There were rumours about Philip and his parents, about Philip and the boys in the park, but it was all so long ago.

I first encountered him during my short mistake of a police career, on a routine investigation into local vandalism. There was a photograph on a sideboard in his stale-aired brown-furnitured living room. He snatched it from view, but not before I saw it. I brought it up at work and there were searches and interviews, but nothing to be found beyond more rumours.

I kept an eye on him, though, over the years. I had, have, resources that allow me to do that, thanks to the job I ended up in when I started following a more authentic vocation. He was one of a few people I casually tracked and kept in reserve for times like this, times when I need something.

It’s dark when I pull up around the corner from Philip Drayne’s house. There’s one light on in an upstairs room, the only sign that anyone still lives here. The garden is overgrown, littered with rusted tangles that used to be mattresses, and the gate hangs off its hinges. It creaks open, but there’s no-one around to hear anything, no-one around to give a shit, if anyone ever did.

There’s no doorbell and I don’t knock. The front door is in as much a state of disrepair as everything around it, easy to open with the small set of tools from my pocket.

There’s a noise from above, a shuffling, and he appears at the top of the stairs. He looks profoundly unwell, each step no more than a series of shudders. Recognition crosses his face. “It’s you.”

I say nothing.

“Thomas.” He spits it out like an accusation.

I don’t know who Thomas is, so I remain silent. The less you say, the more people tell you.

“I thought you were gone. If you’re here for an apology, you can fuck off.” He wheezes and coughs, hacking phlegm and blood onto the remains of the carpet at his feet.

I walk up the stairs towards him, slowly, steadily.

“You wanted it, you little bastard. You were asking for it, just like the rest of them. You all wanted it and then you pretended you didn’t, you lying turds. You thought you were so special, you—” He starts coughing again and takes a step back, leaning against the wall with its peeling paper skin. He’s decomposing too, like the house, like the garden, discordant notes of decay rattling in his chest and throat.

I reach the top of the stairs.

He gulps a mouthful of air and glares up at me. There’s no fear in his eyes, only resignation and resentment. “I’m not sorry,” he says. “I’ll never be sorry.”

It’s almost too easy, but easy is what I need right now. I don’t want a fight. I only want the end result. All it takes is one push, and he falls, head over heels over head, his neck audibly cracking about halfway down. He’s still alive when he lands, barely, and he reaches for a breath he’ll never take.

I lay a gloved hand against his chest, his heartbeat already slowing, and wait. He seems terrified now, but it doesn’t matter to me. Whoever Thomas is, it would probably matter to him.

I leave Philip Drayne where he fell. There’s no point in disposing of a body no-one will be looking for anyway. Besides, it was an accident. A very sick man who lived alone fell down the stairs and died a few months sooner than he would have if the poison in his lungs had been left to take him.

I walk back to my car with only the dark windows of falling-down houses to bear witness to my presence. I almost light a cigarette, but it doesn’t feel right. I might drive to the coast again tomorrow, walk past Alchemy and sit on the wall, imagine some time in the near future when those places will officially be part of my life and how they might drown out the other places, the other times, the other needs.

The air tastes like rain coming.